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KILLING CUSTER
by Margaret Coel
Berkely, September 2013
309 pages
$26.95
ISBN: 0425264637


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is the 18th book in the mystery series starring Father John O'Malley and Arapaho lawyer Vicky Holden. Although it was the first of the series I've read, it will not be the last. Coel incorporates a lot of history into the book, as well as something of an understanding of the way that re-enactors can take on the personalities and causes of their muses. In this book, General Custer is played by a commander from the Iraqi war (Edward Garrett), and his historical sidekicks are played by his real-life war subordinates. One theme of the book is played out in an extended metaphor about the role that egotistical leaders play in war, and the damage they cause.

Another theme revolves around the greed of men and their need to feel a part of something exclusive that sets them apart and above others. And there is a theme of being caught between two worlds, as native Vicky finds herself in the white world and white Father John finds himself in the world of the reservation. Finally, there is a theme having to do with friendship or love, but that seems to be building upon a relationship that has developed over past books and is consequently obscured for the reader new to the series.

The book opens during a parade featuring Garrett as a Custer re-enactor. Arapahos from the reservation add a surprise dimension to the parade as they circle the Custer contingent and forge ahead, leaving a shocked crowd as Custer/Garrett is found dead on the street. Vicky is shortly thereafter contacted by Garrett's widow who is looking for the half a million dollars Garrett should have had after selling his ranch and who believes her step-daughter is somehow responsible for Garrett's death. Vicky takes Garrett's widow on as a client, thereby making it impossible for her to represent the Arapahos, who are immediately targeted as the murderers. She spends the bulk of the book dealing with her anxiety over helping a white woman while she cannot come to the aid of her own people. Her search for the money overlaps Father John's search for a different killer than the Arapaho boys he feels must be innocent, and the two eventually ferret out the truth.

Coel did a good job of developing the relationships in a way that made it possible for a new reader to jump in, even without the background from previous books in the series. And she described the landscapes of Wyoming well. The real strength of the book, however, is in the way that it makes the reader connect historical and modern warfare. We may think we've advanced, but Coel makes us stop and think about how true that actually is.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, September 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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